Friday, March 06, 2015

CCC 125 - Somtow Sucharitkul

Somtow Sucharitkul is a Thai-American conductor, composer -- and award-winning science fiction author. And he's this week's Consonant Composer's Challenge profile.

Although born in Thailand, Somtow spent a significant amount of time in England and the US. His compositions combines traditional Thai music with the conventions of Western art music. Somtow's experience as a conductor gives him an intimate knowledge of the orchestra. That knowledge (I believe) makes his orchestrations so effective.

Somtow's music has strong tonal centers, though they're not necessarily in major or minor keys. Rather, melodies tend to be primarily pentatonic. Traditional Thai scales have seven equally-spaced notes, of which five are used as principle pitches.

Deserted City is an evocative work for solo violin and orchestra. Sucharitkul has the solo violin bend notes and glissando between pitches, emulating the sound of traditional Thai stringed instruments.


Ganesha's Aria is an excerpt from Somtow's 2006 opera Ayodhya. The work is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana, and places Thai music traditions within the framework of modern opera -- to great effect.

The ballet-opera Suriyothai is based on the legend of 16th century royal consort Suriyothai. Although Thai elements are strong in the score, the work also seems to have a neo-baroque flavor to it.

Somtow Sucharitkul maintains an active career not only as a composer, but as a conductor and recording artist as well. Although he celebrates his native culture, Somtow's works are skillfully written to be accessible -- and enjoyable -- to Western ears. For orchestras trying to break the hold of dead white European composers, a well-written work by a living Asian composer might be just the thing.

Recommended Recordings

Somtow Sucharitkul - Requiem - In Memoriam 9/11

GONGULA by Somtow Sucharitkul

Perpetual May

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